There’s a guy I know both at work and through volunteering at our local fire department. Nice guy, 30s, good-looking, single. Great sense of humor and well respected among everyone we mutually know.
I would not consider this guy a friend — more of an acquaintance — but we are friendly to each other when we see one another at meetings, passing in the hall, or so forth.
The other day, he came to my office early in the morning and asked, “do you have plans for lunch?” Since he generally does not ask me to join him for lunch, I took that question that he had another reason to ask me to lunch. I replied to say, “I brought my lunch, but sure, if you want to get out, let’s plan on it.”
He said, “Great. I have something I want to talk to you about.”
When we met later at lunchtime, he said, “You are ‘just you’. I admire that. Let me explain what I mean.” My curiosity piqued,
I asked him what he meant. This is what he said (pretty much word-for-word as I remember it and wrote this post immediately after our lunch):
I have been struggling with coming out publicly as a gay man. I’ve been living in the closet way too long. Like most guys, I was worried about how other people would react. Then I just see you being you.
There you are… the consummate professional, yet wearing a wedding ring. I hear you occasionally mention your husband in casual conversations and pre-meeting chit-chat. You have a nice photo of you and your husband on your desk.
I see that other people treat you like any other professional. What you know and what you can do … not that you are a gay man married to another man. There’s nothing “gay” about you. You are … well … just who you are.
I did not know how to respond, or even if I should. I just shrugged and said, “what you see is what you get.”
My colleague said, “that’s just it!”
Then he told me that he came out to his family two weeks ago, and the general response was, “we knew this already. What else is new?” — just like my twin brother reacted to me when he was the first person I came out to.
He decided to come out to more people who are important in his life.
What meant the most to me was him saying, “you are who you are.” Yep, I am who I am — a man who works for a living, cares for his community, and is married to a man. Gay? Yep, but that does not define or restrict me. What defines and makes me, “me” is that I am a confident and secure professional, caring neighbor, family-loving guy, and happily married man.
Life is short: be who you are. You never know who is watching.